- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to “write a new chapter in China-Zimbabwe relations” and create an intensive strategic partnership between the two, just months after a de facto military coup ended former Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe’s 37-year-rule over the southern African nation.

Mr. Xi made the comments Tuesday in Beijing, where he hosted current Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s new leader in November and has been scrambling since to court fresh foreign investment.

The development comes against a backdrop in which the Trump administration in Washington has criticized China for pushing questionable loans on several African nations in exchange for access to things like rare earth minerals and other natural resources.

Mr. Xi was quoted by Reuters on Tuesday as saying that he wants to “work with” Mr. Mnangagwa to expand ties.

The news agency noted that Beijing had previously considered Mr. Mugabe a “good friend,” but that the Xi government had made the pointed decision not to support the 94-year-old former Zimbabwean leader as he was driven from power late last year.

Agence France-Presse, meanwhile, reported that Chinese officials have denied playing any part in the military takeover that resulted in Mr. Mugabe’s ouster and the subsequent rise to power of the 75-year-old Mr. Mnangawa.

Beijing had remained an ally and trade partner with Mr. Mugabe in recent years, even as the United States and other Western powers leveled economic sanctions against his government amid anger over human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Tuesday’s development marked the latest in wider China-Africa relations, which have seen Beijing pump tens of billions of dollars into infrastructure and other projects on the continent during recent years. Reuters cited Chinese state media as reporting that trade between China and African countries reached $85.3 billion in the first half of 2017.

China’s growing influence on the continent was a core focus of former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s tour of several African nations last month — a tour that did not include a stop in Zimbabwe.

A senior State Department official, who spoke on background with reporters at the time, argued that China, Russia, North Korea and Iran increasingly are extracting “rare earth minerals” and other resources from several African nations in exchange for easy access and questionable financial loans.

It’s a situation that runs counter what the official claimed is Washington’s interest in “getting African countries … off of debt” in the post-colonial era.

“A lot of countries in southern Africa and parts of the east and west are having anywhere from 50 percent to, in one case, 200 percent of GDP debt,” the official said. “Eighty percent and 50 percent are probably Chinese loans, and that’s really not acceptable, and that’s an area that we really need to address and focus on.”

At the same time, the official said the U.S. and China have a “very complex relationship” when it comes to Africa and the two nations should work together toward a collective policy that better benefits the continent.

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